Pirate fishing vessel Greko 1.

Pirate fishing vessel Greko 1.


The Ocean Sanctuary Alliance (OSA) seeks to address overfishing, the most destructive force inflicted upon the ocean.  Over 100 marine species are recorded as extinct, primarily due to overfishing.  Population declines as high as 90-99% from historic levels have been documented for many species.  Industrial fishing empties the ocean of about 100 million tons of fish each year, 40% of which is “by-catch” that is wounded or killed and then wasted, and other marine life including dolphins, whales, and sea turtles are harmed in the process.

Marine protected areas, or sanctuaries, limit the type and/or amount of fishing that can be conducted in designated areas and are essential to restore the ocean.  There is data showing the effectiveness of sanctuaries, such as studies that found 200% more large fish species, 840% more large fish, and 1990% more shark mass in sanctuaries than in non-sanctuary environments.  In addition to serving as fish replenishment zones, sanctuaries are reservoirs of biodiversity and help maintain the ocean’s resilience and ability to adapt to changing circumstances. Ultimately, they will play a key role in food security, as seafood products are a major source of protein around the world, particularly in countries where food scarcity is a serious problem. 

Virtually every country with a marine coastline has declared one or more marine sanctuaries.   Movements are underway throughout the world to create more of them.  OSA believes this widespread commitment to conservation is a strong foundation on which to build a consensus towards a more comprehensive solution. But, we recognize the need for bigger and more coordinated action. 

OSA has seen the impact of countries with sanctuaries coming together.  An example is the work being done to protect sharks.  In 2009, the island nation of Palau declared the world’s first shark sanctuary.  Other countries followed, and now there is a strong coalition of countries with shark sanctuaries at the UN that advocate together and have had significant successes, such as getting sharks on the endangered species list and regulating shark finning.  

While sanctuaries are gaining momentum, only about 6% of the world’s ocean is committed to be protected , far short of the 20-30% recommended by scientists.  Implementation of SDG 14, Target 5 would be a momentous step to restore and sustain fish stock and protect marine biodiversity needed to sustain marine ecosystems. 

SDG 14 commits the governments of the world to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”  Among the specific targets are to “implement science-based management plans to restore fish-stocks in the shortest time feasible” and “conserve at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas.”


Palau authorities torched pirate fishing boats apprehended in protected waters.  (Pew Charitable Trusts photo)

Palau authorities torched pirate fishing boats apprehended in protected waters.  (Pew Charitable Trusts photo)


Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development

14.1 By 2025, prevent and significantly reduce marine pollution of all kinds, in particular from land-based activities, including marine debris and nutrient pollution
14.2 By 2020, sustainably manage and protect marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid significant adverse impacts, including by strengthening their resilience, and take action for their restoration in order to achieve healthy and productive oceans
14.3 Minimize and address the impacts of ocean acidification, including through enhanced scientific cooperation at all levels
14.4 By 2020, effectively regulate harvesting and end overfishing, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices and implement science-based management plans, in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible, at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield as determined by their biological characteristics
14.5 By 2020, conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on the best available scientific information
14.6 By 2020, prohibit certain forms of fisheries subsidies which contribute to overcapacity and overfishing, eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and refrain from introducing new such subsidies, recognizing that appropriate and effective special and differential treatment for developing and least developed countries should be an integral part of the World Trade Organization fisheries subsidies negotiation
14.7 By 2030, increase the economic benefits to Small Island developing States and least developed countries from the sustainable use of marine resources, including through sustainable management of fisheries, aquaculture and tourism
14.a Increase scientific knowledge, develop research capacity and transfer marine technology, taking into account the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission Criteria and Guidelines on the Transfer of Marine Technology, in order to improve ocean health and to enhance the contribution of marine biodiversity to the development of developing countries, in particular small island developing States and least developed countries
14.b Provide access for small-scale artisanal fishers to marine resources and markets
14.c Enhance the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources by implementing international law as reflected in UNCLOS, which provides the legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans and their resources, as recalled in paragraph 158 of The Future We Want.



Virtually every country with a marine coastline has declared one or more marine protected areas. States that disagree with each other on a whole range of issues find common ground in that they have recognized the value of protecting the ocean by establishing marine sanctuaries.
This is the golden thread that binds the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance.

137 countries (shown in green) have declared some form of Marine Protected Area


SDG 14 talks about various initiatives to address the alarming prospect of the decline of the ocean. In addition to marine protected areas (sanctuaries) it talks about government subsidies to commercial fishermen, excessive bycatch, illegal equipment, acidification, pollution, and warming among many worrisome factors.

The Ocean Sanctuary Alliance (OSA) believes the establishment of “no-take” protected areas where commercial fishing cannot occur is the single most important of all these initiatives, and should be strongly supported by member-states responding to the need for urgent action. This must be considered against the background that the current situation of fish stock depletion is deteriorating rapidly. Many commercial fisheries are quickly approaching collapse. It is possible to save them if action is taken within the next five years. After that, even though many fish stocks will be on the way to recovery, some will have been lost forever. 

The only numerical goal in SDG 14, and possibly in all the SDGs, is Target 5: By 2020, conserve at least 10 percent of coastal and marine areas, consistent with national and international law and based on best available scientific information. The establishment of sanctuaries therefore can be measured precisely at any given point. The member-states will know if that goal has been achieved, or will know what still must be done to achieve it. This alone makes the sanctuary goal stand out among the other objectives of SDG 14. 

Most important, we believe the establishment of sanctuaries can be accomplished more quickly than any of the other actions contemplated by SDG 14. It takes the political will or decision of each member-state to establish the boundaries of protected areas. While the political process required to take such decisions varies among member-states, all have the capacity to take swift action in the face of an urgent need. Once the decision is taken, the protected area comes immediately into existence and its boundaries are known to all.

 Furthermore, we believe that compliance with no-take sanctuaries will be much easier to monitor and enforce than many of the other measures discussed in SDG 14. It will not be necessary to board fishing vessels to inspect their equipment or their catch. It will not be necessary to figure out if subsidies are being paid or not. The mere presence of a fishing vessel in a sanctuary area would be grounds for enforcement action. We believe the naval vessels and crews and the surveillance technology already deployed by member-states are sufficient to monitor protected areas to achieve quick compliance.

Can be easily measured (in square km.)
            Can be implemented unilaterally by member states
Can be implemented quickly
Can have immediate results (depending on fish/fisher)




Marine Protected Areas: An URGENT NEED


Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) is an umbrella term that encompasses virtually any type of ocean refuge that provides some level of protection.   Strongly protected areas exclude all commercial activities, but allow low levels of extractive activities for subsistence or artisanal fisheries.

Why are MPAs important, and how do they benefit the world’s oceans and human communities?  Scientific studies indicate that the greater the level of protection, the greater the benefits.  One study of 87 MPAs showed that the benefits generated by MPAs increased exponentially if5 key conditions are satisfied: the MPA is “no take” (i.e., fully protected); well-enforced; large; isolated; and existing for a long time.  MPAs conserve biodiversity, preserve key ocean processes and ecological functions, provide resilience, enhance fisheries, and act as an insurance policy if other types of fisheries management do not work. They protect and restore endangered species and ecosystems. They are sites for education and research. They can attract tourists and provide alternative livelihoods for communities. MPAs can sometimes act as economic drivers. For example, a recent study showed that viewing manta rays generated $15 million USD annually in ecotourism in a country that protects them, while their fished value was just $442,000. New research shows that MPAs make good economic sense over the long term. A 2015 study estimated that the total ecosystem service benefits of achieving 10% coverage of MPAs are estimated to be $622-923 billion between 2015 and 2050. With 30% coverage, the benefits range from $719 billion to $1,145 billion over the same period.

Perhaps most importantly for regeneration of depleted fish stocks and populations, MPAs play a significant role in protecting and bringing back the large, old fish that are the engines of reproduction and population replenishment. In addition, following the establishment of an MPA, the typical increase in both growth and numbers of fish can be between three to five times within a decade. A marine reserve in the northern hemisphere on the Pacific, saw an 11 times increase in top predator biomass in 10 years. Another important benefit is called spillover; fish populations that grow within MPAs can spill over from within to outside refuges, building resilience over large areas and promoting fisheries. The regenerating capacity of MPAs is particularly significant in today’s world: the latest FAO statistics show that greater than 90% of assessed fish stocks are presently either fully or over exploited. The future of the world’s fish thus depends upon actions taken today.

Virtually every country with a marine coastline has declared one or more MPAs.  More than 11,000 MPAs exist; however, collectively they comprise only 3.5 % of the ocean’s surface.  Moreover, most existing MPAs are only lightly protected-- only less than a third of the world’s MPAs are the most important kind of MPA, i.e. the strongly protected.  Considering the current low percentage of ocean areas designated as MPAs, the world has a long way to go to reach the 10X20 goal. The stretch is even more daunting if the goal is for strongly or fully protected areas.

The challenges that we face to reach the Target are many. For instance, while an increase in the number and size of fish can sometimes be seen within just a few years, it may take decades for full ecosystem and community benefits to be realized. Because of the lag time between MPA establishment and the realization of benefits, there is often a significant transition cost to those impacted by the designation of a MPA.  This transition period must be financed, and ongoing resources for management and monitoring may be needed, especially in developing countries. It is necessary for governments and donors to mitigate the full impacts of these transition costs to their communities.

MPAs therefore should be established with a plan for self-sustained financing over time, for observation and enforcement and for operationalizing high tech solutions that are efficient and cost-effective.